I know what you’re thinking – I thought it for a very long time, too. “I’m not addicted to anything. Why am I even reading this?” But as it turns out, addiction is a natural state of the human condition. Whether or not you realize it, you’re addicted to something. We all are – and it isn’t always as obvious as the drug addicts and alcoholics. Sometimes it’s subtle. Even easy to overlook.
Did you know that you can be addicted to an emotion? That’s right. Emotions set off serotonin and other chemicals in our brains – have one emotion constantly enough for long enough, and just like other non-natural chemicals, your brain can get addicted. One of the most common emotions to be addicted to is, believe it or not, anger. That’s right – and the addiction usually starts when we’re on the emotional rollercoaster that we call “being a teenager.” Don’t you remember that? When you were mad, all the time – at your parents, at your teachers, at the world at large. You couldn’t do what YOU wanted to do, and obviously you knew better than all of those other people because it’s YOUR life, and you should be allowed to do whatever you want- It goes on and on. But someone who becomes addicted to anger as a teenager doesn’t always lose the addiction as they age.
I’m sure you know someone (we all do) who seems to be “set off” by the tiniest, strangest things. They’re in a perfectly wonderful mood, and suddenly their coffee isn’t exactly right and they explode. Or they get a tiny ding in their car door, and they go off like the car was totaled. I don’t envy these people’s significant others in any way – to live with a person who’s so addicted to anger that their mind looks for any excuse, no matter how minuscule, to trigger that emotion means you’re constantly walking on eggshells around the person. And sometimes even when you aren’t around them, to make sure you won’t do anything that they’ll find out about and be angry about later.
Sadness, too, can be an addiction – though honestly it isn’t quite as destructive to those around you as anger is, it can be just as dangerous to yourself. Do you crave watching sad movies? Do you read books you know have sad endings just because you know you’re going to cry? Do you put yourself in a state of depression over finances, business decisions, whether or not it’s going to rain tomorrow, just because you can? These are symptoms that your brain has become addicted to the chemicals it puts out when you’re sad.
You can also be addicted to other emotions, though – and the best way to fight one of these other addictions is to try and get your brain addicted to a “better” emotion, like happiness. Find whatever you think is the funniest thing you’ve ever seen or read, and when you feel the other emotion coming on, make yourself laugh instead. Find hilarity in life instead of anger or misery, and eventually your brain will trade one addiction for another. These are the people who go around perpetually happy, and it seems like nothing can bother them. As the sign over my fiancee’s mother’s desk reads, “Your bad thoughts cannot penetrate my rainbow wall of happiness!” Wouldn’t you like to be one of those people who can laugh through just about anything? Those are the happy-addicts.
Of course, emotions aren’t the only thing you can get addicted to that isn’t technically a drug. Addictions – all of them – are about chemicals in your brain, and it makes our physical bodies want to perform the action that satisfies the craving as quickly as possible. The addiction cycle is the same, no matter what your addiction. It starts with an emotional trigger – whether it’s that coffee with one too many sugars, or Old Yeller dying at the end of the movie, or the comedian that always makes you bust a gut – those are all emotional triggers. This results in a craving. You WANT that feeling, whatever it is, desperately. You will do just about anything to trigger it. This bleeds into ritual – the actual triggering of the feeling – and flows through using, when you are actually under the influence of whatever it is you were craving. After that, inevitably, comes the guilt for giving in – be it to anger, depression or, yes, even happiness, drugs, or anything else – which can lead right back to the emotional trigger, and the cycle begins again.
Why would you feel guilty for being happy? Well, what if you committed one of humankind’s greatest faux pas? You laughed – at a funeral. Everyone else around you is crying, solemn. And suddenly you remember something funny – because, see, you’re sad. And your brain is craving the happy chemicals, so tries to trigger your ritual reaction. The result is embarrassing and horrifying, and ultimately kicks that cycle into full swing as the guilt hits, which makes your brain go “Where’d my happy go?” and attempt to trigger it again. I’ve seen people go through this cycle – it isn’t fun, and it can make an already horrible day worse – for them, and for everyone around them.
The true and only cure for any addiction is simple – balance. The goal is to get to a point where you hit the emotional trigger but instead of going spinning into the addiction cycle, you can pull yourself back and decide whether or not to react the way you want to. You can choose an appropriate reaction. We’ve all seen people do it – take the ding in the car door for example. Who hasn’t stared at it, gotten furious – then stopped themselves, taken a slow, deep breath, maybe muttered something along the lines of, “Still in warrenty, I’ll just take it to the body shop, it’s fine…” and MADE it be ok? Want to watch a depressing movie? Well, make sure it has a happy or funny ending. Trying not to laugh at a funeral? Tamp down the urge and focus on your loss – you’re there to say goodbye forever to someone you care about. You can control yourself. We all can. But it isn’t easy.
How do I know so much about addiction and fighting it, you ask? What’s MY drug of choice? I’m here today to admit that. My personal drug of choice is food. And I fight that addiction every day – the cravings are sometimes unbearable. Eating normal amounts and kinds of food don’t do a thing for it – I feel hungry all the time. It makes me testy and angry, so I want food for comfort – a vicious cycle. And today I failed in a major way – I sat down and ate, right out of the box, a whole dozen Krispy Kreme glazed donuts – just because they were there.
In thinking about it and going over my failure – and I have had more success than failure in the time I’ve been fighting this addiction – I realized that I owed the world sharing what I know about addiction. So that when the next person sits down to their box of donuts, they’ll stop, think – and hopefully have more self control than I did today.
I’m working on it. Let’s all move forward. Together.